Weight of tradition: culture as a rationale for obesity in contemporary U.S. news coverage


Address for correspondence: Dr HA Shugart, Department of Communication, University of Utah, LNCO 2400, 255 South Central Campus Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84105, USA.

E-mail: h.shugart@utah.edu


In studies of mediated representations of obesity to date, the overwhelming majority have found predominant a personal responsibility frame, specifically as drawn against environmental frames, which are nonetheless gaining ground in recent years. In this essay, I review that extant literature and seek to trouble the binary by isolating national news coverage of obesity in two historically and culturally specific regions of the United States that are regularly referenced in relation to the issue: the South and the Midwest. I evaluate the key characterizations of obesity and obese individuals in these regions in mainstream national news coverage between January 2009 and December 2012 in order to assess whether, how, and to what extent personal responsibility or environmental frames are invoked in this coverage. I argue that ‘culture’ appears to be gaining traction as an emergent discourse for obesity, which may appear to offer a more complex or nuanced explanation of the issue; however, this analysis suggests that it can be taken up in ways that feature troubling implications and consequences.